Distillation of Rum or Spirits, As Conducted in Jamaica, With Remarks on Cisterns or Vats, and Stills (1821)

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This historically important paper was the gift a new blog friend who worked for many years at a legendary Kentucky distillery.

The American Farmer volume 3, page 374, 1822


Distillation of Rum or Spirits
As conducted in Jamaica, with remarks on
Cisterns or Vats, and Stills.

PHILADELPHIA, Dec. 22d, 1821.

The following directions for the distillation of Rum were written at my request, by the worthy Mr. William Hylton, formerly of Virginia, shortly after his return to Jamaica, from the United States, and as the may be useful to those engaged in the business, and the cultivation of the sugar cane, I send them to you. I have not heard from him for several years past, and know not whether he be still living.



First. The vats or cisterns, (which to equalize, as much as possible to the changes of the American clime, I would advise to be placed under ground, and to have covers and pads, over them in winter,) ought to be of the same size as the liquor still, when they are filled within six inches of the top of the vat—there is great escape of spirit if they are filled higher. Note. From much observation, I am persuaded, small stills yield more spirit than large ones, which are now generally used in Jamaica.

2d Experience has lately proven to me, that shallow vats or cisterns work off quicker than deep ones. The fermentation is less impeded, and is more complete. I have made two this year, of 9 and 10 feet square, and 3 deep, set in clay puddle (in place or ramming them) which work off in three days after being set with sweets, &c. whereas those of five feet deep, of the same quantity of gallons, take five days. Round vats I prefer to square, as they are easier made tight with puddle or ramming—two inch white pine will make them; and they may be doweled and hooped with wood.

3d Twelve to fourteen cisterns or vats, will make (in Jamaica) 12 puncheons of rum per week, if they are 1000 gallons each.

All sweets yield best when fresh and new. Molasses sent to America undergoes a strong fermentation before it reaches there; and occasions an acid flavor and hogo in the spirit. The empyruema is sometimes got rid of here, by putting 6 gallons of lye to each 1000 of liquor, or by not mixing the first and last 13 to 20 gallons of low wines or runnings, first and last, with the product of the still—say, 286 to 320 gallons of low wines, from 140 gallons of good molasses, or its equal in sweets, of skimmings and cane juice. Six gallons of skimmings, eight of cane liquor, to one of molasses.

The above quantity of molasses, you will perceive is 14 per cent., a high but not profitable set, adopted from scarcity of fuel. 12 per cent is more productive, thus—molasses 12 per cent, water 40 to 45 per cent, mixed as below—Dunder (or returns of the liquor still) cooled and settled, as directed, 48 per cent.

4th. A large vessel capable of holding the quantity of molasses, used for one cistern, and twice as much water, made like a bumpkin, to have a shaft and cross paddles at and through the foot of it—like the old washing “Dum Betty’s,”) should be placed convenient to the whole cisterns, and elevated with a cock to run off to them, the liquor when mixed, by being well churned, with a crank handle fastened to the top of the shaft.

This is an old plan of my own, but was laid aside after I left Jamaica, and is now again renewed. Its principle is clear. The specific gravity of sweets is so much more than water, &c. which cisterns are made up with, the great part of them, (especially in the deep cisterns,) settle at the bottom, and are not fermented, but are thrown away with the residuum of the cistern, as it is cleaned.

Dunder is cooled and clarified in various ways—mostly by having two vats or cisterns; one or two near or under the still cock, as high as it will admit it, and wide as you can have it to cool quickly. In this or these, you have a cap with collar to fasten over a hole at the bottom, 3 inches above the surface of it to alllow the thick part to settle, and a plug to stop or let off the clear dunder into another vat below it; from the lower one, the dunder is pumped up, to mix your liquor, [i.. ] molasses and water 32 to 57 per cent See the margin. [Hu] I have adopted a new plan this year, to save expense of the lower dunder cistern—that is, a large hollow trunk of a tree, one foot diameter, 6 inches longer than the depth of the upper or lower vat, is placed upright, with its foot let into and corked at the bottom and secured fast by a frame at the top. This tube has holes in it, at 6 to 9 inches asunder, and 4 from the bottom, to which plugs are fixed to draw out and let the dunder in, as it settles from the surface. The pump is fixed in the tube or trunk, to pump up the dunder as it clears, and is let in by the plugs drawn. I give an imperfect sketch in the margin.

Stills should be made fat or squat, to afford the action of fire, on as great a surface as possible, and to force up vapour or spirit in the perpendicular line it rises. This idea I suggested in 1789—sent out for a still of 1600 gallons on my own plan in 1790, and hung it in 1791. Before it was made and exposed to view in Bristol. I verily believe, flat stills were not thought of. Experience has since proved their superiority; as also of copper goose neck to the head, instead of pewter. The head to be one.-third the contents or size of the still. My still is three times the diameter of its depth.

Low wines (as here called, run from liquor; mixed as here described) are put into the small still or rectifier of 300 to 500 gallons and its runnings (until it gets down to the proof of low wines again, which is put by and mixed with the liquor low wines) are put together, to make our rum of bubble proof 22 [65.71% ABV], equal to [Dicas.] Hydro, 5th and one half class, American proof for duty.

But when choice rum is wanted, the first and last few gallons (which has the empyruema) are put also by and not mixed with what is kept for use—as in the liquor or first running. If to every 100 gallons of this rum, you add one to two lbs. of carbon—you have fine flavored rum, and by shifting your rum thus made, three or four times from one puncheon to another, by passing it through a quill into a cullender standing over and two feet above a large tub to catch or receive it, to remove again into the puncheon, you make rum six weeks old equal to three of four years i.e. one year to every shifting or discharging it. A similar mode to purify water, is used in the British Navy, by allowing the air to act on every particle.

CARBON, minutely divided, probably combines with oxygen at every temperature and thus becomes soluble and a manure, 92 or Charcoal, improves the flavor of rum, 374

DISTILLATION of rum, as practiced in Jamaica 374 … vats should not be filled, should be of size suited to the stills…if shallow work quicker than when deep… best form of, number and size to give stated yield per week 374… Sweets yield best when fresh; how, and in what to mix and settle them and dunder 374… how to rid of empyreuma 374… best form, material and size of Stills 374… how to make spirits American proof 374.

EMPYREUMA, how to destroy in molasses; must be excluded from choice rum 374.

HYLTON WILLIAM, describes the Jamaica process of Rum distillation 374.

RUM, mode distilling at Jamaica—why American has a bad flavor, and how to prevent this—to make it very choice, you must exclude the first and last few gallons obtained from the still—how to give it the taste of age—mode of making it American proof, 374

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